CTUIR member may become first Native American to run National Park Service
By Cary Rosenbaum of the CUJ
CTUIR member Chuck Sams III has a knack for making history. Months ago, he received a historic appointment from Gov. Kate Brown to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, becoming only the second Native American to serve in that role.
On Aug. 18, President Biden announced the nomination of Sams for an even bigger role: The Director of the National Park Service.
He would be the first Native American to serve as the highest ranking position in that organization, if approved by the U.S. Senate. Sams would be the first full-time director since the Obama administration.
He declined to comment, but several top-ranking officials backed the nomination, including Secretary Deb Haaland, who was a history maker, herself, as the first Native American to serve in such capacity.
“The diverse experience that Chuck brings to the National Park Service will be an incredible asset as we work to conserve and protect our national parks to make them more accessible for everyone,” she said. “I look forward to working with him to welcome Americans from every corner of our country into our national park system. The outdoors are for everyone, and we have an obligation to protect them for generations to come.”
Gov. Brown recognized Sams as being among Oregon’s finest.
“I can’t think of a better person for the important role of National Park Service Director,” she said. “I have worked closely with Chuck for many years, and have witnessed firsthand his unparalleled devotion and service to his Tribe, our state and our nation.
Brown added, “During your administration, I envision students — both young and old, Tribal and non-tribal alike — visiting Yellowstone, Arches, Mesa Verde or Oregon’s Crater Lake, and hearing the stories of our past and present, including the important stories of the tribal peoples who have inhabited these special places. Chuck is a consummate storyteller and has the skill set and passion to inspire the dedicated staff of the NPS to tell those stories, and to find new and innovative ways to make our parks accessible to all Americans, while conserving and preserving those lands.”
Theresa Pierno, the President and CEO for the National Parks Conservation Association, said Sams would “play an essential role in protecting more than 400 of America’s most treasured places and overseeing the management of 20,000 National Park Service employees. This is no small task, but we believe Sams is prepared to step up and tackle the many challenges and opportunities facing our parks.”
Pierno continued, “Throughout his career, Sams has formed powerful relationships across Tribal nations, all levels of government and the conservation community, navigating difficult issues in an inclusive and caring way. As a descendant of the original guardians of our lands, Sams brings a unique and powerful perspective that can help our national parks continue to evolve in the places and stories they preserve and share.”
Fawn Sharp, the President of the National Congress of American Indians, supported Sams’ nomination, as well.
“Chuck Sams knows the importance of protecting our precious natural resources, wildlife, and habitats while balancing the challenges of welcoming millions of visitors per year to our pristine National Parks,” Sharp, a Quinault Tribal member, said. “As the Park Service’s first Native American director, Chuck is well-positioned to balance recreational uses and stewardship with our Tribal Nations’ needs to maintain our traditional and ancestral ties to these lands.”
The NCAI is urging the Senate to swiftly confirm Sams.
“The department deserves his thoughtful brand of leadership and vision to continue earning the title of, ‘America’s Best Idea,’” NCAI said in a statement of support.
Board of Trustees Chair Kat Brigham said the CTUIR is very proud of Sams.
“Mr. Sams knows about Treaty Rights and that in order for the land to take care of you, we, the people, need to take care of the land. He is a hard worker who will work hard to make a difference for our children and their children.”
Sams is a U.S. Navy veteran who holds a Master’s in Legal Studies from the University of Oklahoma. Prior to serving on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, he was the Tribe’s Interim Executive Director.
His other roles included President/Chief Executive Officer of the Indian Country Conservancy; Executive Director of the Umatilla Tribal Community Foundation; National Director of the Tribal & Native Lands Program for the Trust for Public Land; Executive Director for the Columbia Slough Watershed Council; Executive Director for the Community Energy Project; and President/Chief Executive Officer for the Earth Conservation Corps.
The National Park Service was established in 1916 and oversees 63 parks, 423 historic sites and 12,300 employees. The parks and sites receive more than 318 million visitors per year.